Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jack Gatecliffe Arena-St. Catherines, ON

Basic Information
Team: Niagara Ice Dogs (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Ice Dogs vs Ottawa 67s-11/28/09
Team Website: http://www.niagaraicedogs.net/
Ticket Information: (905) 687-3641
Tourism Information: (800) 305-5134 or http://www.stcatherines.ca/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.river.fm/

Team History: The 2009-10 season is the third in the short history of the Niagara Ice Dogs. The team played in Mississauga’s Hershey Centre from 1998 until the end of the 2006-07 season, when it was purchased by Bill and Denise Burke, and moved to St. Catherines.

How About That Name (and Some History): The Jack Gatecliff Arena, the home of the Ice Dogs, was built in 1938, and was called the Garden City Arena. In 1996, prior to the arrival of the Ice Dogs, the city of St. Catherines renovated the facility, and renamed it the Gatorade Garden City Complex. The Complex actually has two separate rinks, the main Gatecliff Arena, and the smaller Rex Stimers Arena.

Before the Ice Dogs moved to St. Catherines, the arena was the home of the AHL’s St. Catherines Saints, who were the American Hockey League affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Saints played at “the Jack” from 1982-1986.

“The Jack” is the smallest arena in the OHL, with a capacity of 3,145, which includes almost 500 standing room places.

Getting There: (from Buffalo) Take the Queen Elizabeth Way (aka the “QEW”) towards Toronto for approximately 20 miles. Exit onto Thorold Stone Rd (exit 32) going towards Thorold . At the top of the exit ramp, make a left. Follow Thorold Stone Rd (Rt 57) for approximately 5 miles (note: Rt 57 turns into Rt 58.) Take Rt 58 to Rt 406 north going towards St. Catherines. Exit the 406 on Geneva St north. The complex will be on your left hand side virtually as you exit the 406.

Nearby Airport: Toronto’s Lester Pearson International Airport, Hamilton International Airport, and Buffalo International Airport are all less than an hour’s drive from St. Catherines.

What To Do Before The Game: A short drive from St. Catherines brings you to Niagara Falls, ON. The “Canadian side” features many tourist destinations, including the Skylon observation tower, Marineland, and two world-class casinos, the Fallsview and Casino Niagara. For more information, visit the friendly folks at the Ontario Welcome Centres located just over the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Dining in the area of the arena is EXTREMELY limited, and the neighborhood isn’t exactly the best. I recommend getting a copy of the St. Catherines visitors guide for more information. You can get one at http://www.stcatherines.ca/.

Where To Stay: Since I stayed in Buffalo during my trip to see the Ice Dogs, I can’t really give much information here. I would consult with the folks at the St. Catherines Tourism Bureau.

Tickets: Ice Dogs tickets are priced as follows: C$18.00 (premium), C$17.00 (end), C$15.00 (youth/seniors), and C$13.00 (standing).

Parking: Parking at the complex is limited, but free.

The Good Seats: Every seat at “the Jack” is a good one. While seating is of the traditional wooden fold-down type, instead of being set up for one butt per, they are wide enough for two...kind of like a wooden love seat! The standing room is a good choice if the seating has been sold out, with the a standing area in the concourse about the seating bowl providing good views from almost any position. A bonus to the standing room is a shelf, provided by team management, to place your beer and hot dog on.

Getting In: There is one major entrance, which also hosts the box office, which leads you to the stairs which take you up to the seating area. Beware, the team locker room is the first thing you will encounter when you walk in, so you might be dodging the visiting team during their calisthenics!

Arena Food: “The Jack” is an old community rink , so concession stands are at a premium. In the slightly chaotic area which takes you into the seating bowl, there is one small concession stand selling basic arena food, a table set up nearby selling beer and pizza, and another table selling pulled pork sandwiches. The price wasn’t too bad, and the quality was acceptable.

Inside the arena proper, there are beer tables set up on the concourse where you can get a brew and watch the game. There is also a smaller concession stand below the grandstand on the opposite end of the arena from the main entrance.

Restrooms: There are restrooms set up in the entrance to the seating area and below the seating area near the smaller concession stand. They are small, but they are clean and well kept up.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Gatecliff Arena has an old-fashioned center hanging scoreboard which gives the basic game information only. Like the Hershey Centre, St. Catherines has four projection video screens which give a view of anything that you might have missed.

The PA announcer has a good delivery and the music played has a good selection.

Game Staff: The Ice Dogs have some of the friendliest, most helpful people that I have ever encountered in my sports travels. Everyone there had a smile on their face and had time to chat about the team. Even me, a first timer, was welcomed as a friend and not a stranger.
If you happen to visit the Ice Dogs, be sure and say hello to Bill and Denise Burke, the team’s owners. They sit under the press box near the center line. You will not meet two nicer people and more classy and genial hosts.

Souvenirs: The Ice Dogs have a small souvenir store located at the entrance to the seating bowl.

Atmosphere: You could not have more of a contrast. The evening before in Mississauga. It was comfortable, yet quiet…almost passionless. St. Catherines was a diametric opposite. It was loud, rowdy, and intense from the warm-ups to the final buzzer. You can’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere, and even me, who didn’t know anything about the team when I walked in, was cheering loudly for the Ice Dogs when the clock reached zero.

One of the ushers told me that when “the Jack” is full, the cheering is so loud that it can be heard in the apartment building across the street!

Overall Rating: Gatecliff Arena is small, old, and chaotic on a game night. It’s a cracker box of a city rink which has a lot of drawbacks. However, once you walk in, none of that is worth a looney. All of the things I just listed make “the Jack” a special place when the puck drops. If you want a true hockey experience with a team that is intertwined with the community, a Saturday night with the Ice Dogs is the place to be, and is worth the drive.

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